The Blue Ridge Parkway is a ribbon of road that weaves through the region’s vibrant living traditions. From Cherokee life and agricultural history to Southern Appalachian crafts and music, the Parkway’s 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina offers many ways to explore rich traditions.
The Parkway represents a “slice” of America, and each historic site or cabin is a snapshot of one time and one place. Cultural sites here represent about one hundred years – the early decades of the nineteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth century. Those who planned the Parkway and its scenic views thought that the most picturesque and quaint remnants of the past were the log cabins.
In a few places, the early designers removed larger houses and replaced them with smaller rough hewn cabins, complete with reflecting ponds. Although cabins were certainly here in the early days of mountain settlement, many were covered with siding and whitewashed before too many years.
It is also important to remember that there were more homes here in the past than we see today. At places like Rockcastle Gorge, Basin Cove, and the Peaks of Otter, communities of dozens of families lived and worked. Some lived in log houses, others in framed farm houses. In some cases, natural disasters such as the 1916 flood or the Chestnut blight devastated entire mountain communities.
As you visit the Parkway, the historic sites that capture your attention reveal many broad themes of Blue Ridge history. We hope you find stories that challenge you to think about the unique Appalachian culture, defined by arts, crafts, and music that persists in the region. The Cherokee culture that has populated the region and defined much of Appalachian history for thousands of years is preserved on the southern end of the Parkway and reflected in place names throughout the region.
According to some scholars, the herbal lore, basketry, and even some forms of dancing, so much a part of “traditional” Appalachian culture, have roots in the exchange of culture when Europeans and Native Americans met on the Appalachian frontier.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is to slow down, listen, and take all of the stories you hear as part of the bigger Blue Ridge story. Together, these are stories that tell us of the richness and wealth of this ancient slice of America.
Visit the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area for more information about the region's rich cultural heritage.
Cherokee Cultural Heritage
Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians honor and cultivate traditions which have guided and supported their culture for a thousand years. Balancing the modern world with these ancient traditions, the Cherokee welcome millions of visitors each year while stewarding the delicate mountain landscape that is their ancestral home
Live concerts, festivals and cultural events celebrate the region’s rich musical heritage throughout the year. The Blue Ridge Music Center at Milepost 213 features instrument making, song writing history and concerts that showcase the region’s music traditions such as old-time, bluegrass, ballad singing, blues and sacred music.
Communities along the Parkway’s 469 miles keep living craft traditions alive through a variety of galleries, shops, and events. The Folk Art Center at Milepost 382 is home of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, featuring regional crafts, live demonstrations, and special events.
For thousands of years, Native Americans cultivated the fertile valleys along the Parkway. European immigrants brought agricultural practices with them as they settled in the mountains, but soon adopted and refined many Cherokee crops and techniques. This blending of immigrant agricultural practices with Native American traditions created a distinctive agricultural heritage. Farmers’ markets, restaurants featuring locally grown food and cultural tours along the Parkway highlight the region’s agricultural heritage.
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, you will find:
- Some of the oldest mountains in the world
- The highest mountain peak in the eastern United States (Mount Mitchell)
- The oldest river in North America (New River)
- The deepest gorge east of the Grand Canyon (Linville Gorge)
- The highest waterfall east of the Rockies (Whitewater Falls)
- Abundant biodiversity